Trump’s Interior secretary: Shameless tool of oil and gas industries (Salon)

Trump’s Interior secretary: Shameless tool of oil and gas industries

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

(Credit: Getty/Mark Wilson)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke loves to portray himself as a humble, outdoorsy man of the people, a loving steward of the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains so dear to the American people. In defending the Trump administration’s recent choice to drastically shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, Zinke claimed, “We listen to the voices of the people, not Washington, D.C., special interests.”

In reality, the opposite is true. The way Zinke runs the Interior Department makes it clear that the only voices he deems worth hearing are those of oil and gas special interests — not the public that uses federal lands, not scientists, not environmentalists and not even his fellow Republicans who view their own homes as having some value beyond that of a giant oil field.

When it comes to the national monument decision, Zinke’s half-hearted efforts to engage with the public didn’t appear to fool anyone. He spent four days with anti-monument people and only gave two hours to pro-monument and Native American representatives. Over a 60-day comment period, the Interior Department received 2.4 million comments, nearly all of which supported keeping the monuments as they are. Zinke shrugged all that off and instead did what oil and gas lobbyists would prefer him to do.

This attitude towards the public extends well beyond the national monument debate. In an October report with the snooze-inducing title “Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy,” ordinary citizens are portrayed as little more than a nuisance to be suppressed so the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal office within the Interior Department that controls most federal lands, can more easily move oil and gas drilling leases forward.

“Current BLM regulations allow any party to file a protest on a BLM decision,” the document explains, before noting that these protests have risen in recent years due to concerns about the dangers of climate change or hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The document goes on to recommend limiting the ability of citizens to file such protests, which may impose “a burden on oil and natural gas development on public lands.”

But perhaps the most telling example of 2017, besides the national monument debacle, is the way Zinke is handling the Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan, which was finalized under the Obama administration in 2015. Since the Trump administration’s only clear policy goal is to systematically destroy everything accomplished by his predecessor, it is now being torn up by Zinke’s Interior Department.

Here’s some background: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services had been considering putting the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List, but such a designation was highly controversial. Sage grouse are spread out over a large area — 11 Western states — and an endangered species listing would have severely constrained development on dozens of millions of acres of land.

“As a result, a broad and unlikely coalition of biologists, ranchers, environmental groups, extractive industries, federal agencies and state and local governments worked feverishly to create a management plan for the bird that would preempt a listing,” NPR explained. Obama’s Interior Department called the initiative “unprecedented.”

By creating an elaborate plan to protect the sage grouse, Interior was able to keep the bird off the Endangered Species List. It was a compromise, however, and as with any compromise, many parties were dissatisfied. Environmentalists thought it didn’t go far enough to protect the bird and its habitat. Oil and gas interests are, of course, angry at pretty much any constraints on where and how they drill. So Zinke decided that the plan needed revision to take “local economic growth and job creation” more into consideration, even though the whole point of spending years developing the plan in the first place was to balance economic interests with conservation interests.

Zinke claims he wants to involve interests other than oil and gas lobbyists in the process, but, as Nada Culver, the director of the Wilderness Society‘s BLM Action Center, told Salon, environmentalists and other stakeholders fear they are “being set up to be duped.” 

Here we are at the table, providing written comment, attending public meetings, trying to be heard,” Culver said, while at the same time suspecting that Zinke will “make changes to the plans without going through a whole process, without doing environmental analysis, without providing opportunities for review and input.”

It took years for Obama’s Interior Department to develop the sage grouse plan, but Zinke’s Interior Department only provided an abbreviated 45-day public comment period for their proposal to unravel it. There have technically been public meetings, clearly conducted in a manner designed to minimize the possibility of public input. Scott Sonner of the Associated Press reported a scene of frustration at one such meeting, which was mostly a retread of the same debate over how to manage these birds and their habitat that most people involved believed had been resolved two years earlier.

It’s not just environmentalists who are frustrated, either. Some conservative interests, who had been eager to keep the sage grouse off the Endangered Species List, are worried as well. As Courtney Flatt of KUOW in Oregon reported, some ranchers and miners in the area worry that efforts to roll back the plan could backfire, doing so much damage to the bird’s habitat that Fish and Wildlife will be forced to list it as an endangered species, which would trigger the severe land use restrictions they were trying to avoid in the first place.

Western governors, some of them Republicans, are also feeling shut out and have been highly critical of Zinke’s efforts to drastically revise a plan their states had spent years working with federal officials to create.

“We can’t have wholesale changes in wildlife management every four or eight years,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, said in October. “I don’t think that is the best way to sustain populations or provide the necessary predictability to industry and business in our states.”

Zinke’s handling of the Interior Department poses a particular danger to the future of American public lands and wildlife. But on a larger scale, it’s also a microcosm of how the Trump administration does business: In a slipshod manner, with the aim of undoing the Obama administration’s progress while placating wealthy benefactors and corporate interests, and with absolutely no concern about the long-term consequences.


via Salon

December 11, 2017 at 02:07AM

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